The reform rhetoric of Myanmar’s ruling elite

By: Muang Zarni - Posted on: November 14, 2011 | Current Affairs

ANALYSIS: Having carved up the country’s assets amongst themselves, Myanmar’s ruling elite are ready to milk the cash cow that is their country

Muang Zarni
Muang Zarni

Driven by their divergent agendas regarding the military-ruled Burma, external and local interests are ignoring the country’s power and economic realities while singing the praise 
of Naypyidaw.

The inconvenient truth is that the same, old class of men will fail to frog-march the country towards peace, prosperity and democracy.

Their half-century of failures, which speak louder than the rhetoric of reforms, include: the world’s longest smouldering civil war; pockets of near-famine; widespread sub-Sahara Africa-like conditions of life; breakdowns of fragile ceasefires; use of convicts as human mine sweepers; one of the world’s largest refugee populations; environmental degradation; massive public asset transfers to the ruling military generals in the name of privatisation; and rampant corruption, death and destruction.

So, for governments and policy wonks that wish to convince the public of the genuineness of the changes under way in Burma, they must address two outstanding issues which they have so far been silent on.

First, the current top-down changes are not going to make a dent in the most fundamental power relations between the citizenry and the exclusive ruling club of generals and ex-generals.

Without both the genuine 
acknowledgment of, and putting into practice, the universal democratic ethos of `We the People as the sovereign’, no government can claim to be moving in the direction of some form of democracy.

There are no signs that Naypyidaw has stopped viewing itself as the country’s `divine ruler’.

On the contrary, the 2008 Nargis Constitution places the military above the law and legalises any military coup at the whims of the commander-in-chief. This clearly violates both the spirit and letter of constitutionalism. For the military’s constitution is not to curb the generals’ excessive powers, but to further enshrine them.

Second, the main economic policy changes, such as attempts to readjust the country’s exchange rate with the help of the International Monetary Fund and `privatising’ public assets, will neither improve the public welfare nor increase equitably the people’s stakes in the economy.

In the first quarter-century of the generals’ rule (1962-88), the late General Ne Win impoverished both the military and the public through his economically ruinous ‘Burmese way to socialism’. In the second quarter since 1988, his successor Than Shwe and underlings have pursued `the Burmese way to capitalism’.

Burma now has a new class of super-rich 
generals and cronies, who share the spoils while the public goes hungry and the environment gets degraded.

Meanwhile, the global oil, gas and mining industries, as well as Burma’s neighbours, gleefully join in the rape of Asia’s `virgin economy’.

For the public, by the time they have earned their civil and political rights to organise, associate and protest, there will be nothing left worth protesting for.

Zaganar, Burma’s influential political comedian who was released from jail where he was serving 35-year imprisonment, summed up the local disbelief when he told the Irrawaddy, the influential exile publication in Thailand: “I wanted to believe in these positive changes that Aung San Suu Kyi spoke about. But since this morning [upon release], I lost belief in them because I found that the government does not even have a genuine desire to release all political prisoners.”